From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Erich Auerbach (November 9, 1892 – October 13, 1957) was a German philologist and comparative scholar and critic of literature. His best-known work is Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, a history of representation in Western literature from ancient to modern times and frequently cited as a classic in the study of realism in literature.
Auerbach, who was Jewish and born in Berlin, was trained in the German philological tradition and would eventually become, along with Leo Spitzer, one of its best-known scholars. After participating as a combatant in World War I, he earned a doctorate in 1921 at University of Greifswald, served as librarian at the Prussian State Library for some years, and in 1929 became a member of the philology faculty at the University of Marburg, publishing a well-received study entitled Dante: Poet of the Secular World.
With the rise of National Socialism Auerbach was forced to vacate his position in 1935. Exiled from Nazi Germany, he took up residence in Istanbul, Turkey, where he wrote Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (1946), generally considered his masterwork. Auerbach's life and work in Turkey is detailed and placed in historical and sociological context by Kader Konuk, East West Mimesis: Auerbach in Turkey (2010).
He moved to the United States in 1947, teaching at Pennsylvania State University and then working at the Institute for Advanced Study. He was appointed professor of Romance philology at Yale University in 1950, a position he held until his death in 1957 in Wallingford, Connecticut.
While at Yale, Auerbach supervised Fredric Jameson's doctoral work.
In the fifty year commemoration reprinting of Auerbach's Mimesis, Edward Said of Columbia University included an extended introduction to Auerbach and mentioned the book's debt to Giambattista Vico stating: "As one can immediately judge by its subtitle, Auerbach's book is by far the largest in scope and ambition out of all the other important critical works of the past half century. Its range covers literary masterpieces from Homer and the Old Testament right through to Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust, although as Auerbach says apologetically at the end of the book, for reasons of space he had to leave out a great deal of medieval literature as well as some crucial modern writiers like Pascal and Baudelaire."